Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which started before last year’s election ending his run as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, continues for three days each week at the Jerusalem District Court.
He claims that the charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption scandals are nothing more than a witch-hunt by the left, supported by the judiciary, law enforcement agencies and the media, in an effort to keep him from power.
The court begins its summer recess on July 23 and the trial is set to resume on September 5, when the election campaign should be in full flow.
A key witness, Hadas Klein, is expected to testify in the coming weeks. Klein was an aide to tycoon Arnon Milchan, and is the main prosecution witness in Case 1000, in which Netanyahu is charged with accepting gifts worth about 700,000 shekels from Milchan and another billionaire friend, James Packer, in return for favors.
Her testimony could prove embarrassing for Netanyahu, but so far the trial has had little impact on his public support, and if anything, has served to boost his standing among his loyal base.
A bill barring anybody under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister was introduced by coalition lawmakers in late June but did not progress.
Radical reforms to reduce the power of the judicial branch are a top priority for the Likud and other parties in the pro-Bibi bloc if they return to power.
A few days before the Knesset dispersed, a bill was introduced by Likud Knesset members May Golan and Dudi Amsalem whereby Supreme Court justices, including the president and deputy president, are to be appointed by the cabinet and confirmed by the Knesset. The bill did not progress, but may be an indication of things to come if Benjamin Netanyahu is returned to power. The proposal marks a major shift in the balances of power between the branches of government, and gives the executive and the legislature control over the makeup of the upper echelons of the judiciary.
“What about the independence of the judicial branch?”Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar
“What about the independence of the judicial branch?” shouted Justice Minister Gideon Saar from the Knesset podium.
Another possibility is that a future Netanyahu government could reintroduce the so-called French Law, which prevents a sitting prime minister being prosecuted while serving in office.
The opposition also fears Netanyahu may appoint a new attorney-general who will agree to a favorable plea bargain deal that does not include a prison term or a moral turpitude clause that would stop Netanyahu from serving in public office.